Ah Valletta, so tiny, yet jam-packed with places to visit and things to see and do for visitors and locals alike. No matter your interests or mood. Valletta always brings the vibe. From artsy exhibitions and aristocratic houses to culinary explosions and rooftop bars. Plus, if you looking for places to stay, there’s grand hotels, cute boutiques and authentic Airbnb’s. With over 300 attractions waiting, you’ll visit Valletta and feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface. So, here’s a mini guide to help you explore Malta’s beautiful capital city.
Steeped in a colourful history, Valletta is Maltas’ capital city and has been described as an “open-air museum”. A walk through the first planned city in Europe will take you back centuries. Though only less than a kilometre in size, Valletta is the smallest capital city in the EU. But, don’t let that fool you, Valletta offers a stunning hybrid of multiculturalism and exudes elegance from its baroque architecture down to its fortified walls. Said to have been built “by gentlemen for gentlemen”, Valletta (in its entirety) was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1980. But, amongst the backdrop of gorgeous buildings, you will discover vibrant shops, cafes, museums and the prettiest of churches in the whole of Europe. Visit Valletta and you’ll discover it’s national treasures and see “one of the most concentrated historic sites in the world”
It may sound simple, but with Valletta being an open air museum, one of the best things to do in Malta is to stroll Valletta’s winding streets (and makes for a perfect activity, if you’re looking for free things to do in Valletta). You’ll get pretty views and colourful iconic gallerija-lined streets giving you a sweet taste of Malta Island life.
As I said before, Valletta is the result of a perfect plan.
So, following the battle of the Siege in 1565, (and one of things Malta is famous for) the victorious Knights of Malta purposefully built Valletta as a fortress, you know, just in case, naming it after man of the siege…Knight Jean Parisot de Valette.
Now you see, a walk around a 400 year old city isn’t so simple after all…so in the nicest way possible…
go get lost.
You really won’t (get lost), technically you can walk Valletta in under an hour! But, just in case, you’re anything like me, I have included a map of Valletta below.
Map of Valletta
(Top) Place to Visit: St John’s Co- Cathedral
Without question, one of the prettiest cathedrals in all of Europe, a visit to St John’s Co-Cathedral is not to be missed.
This church was named after the Knights of St John and also the patron saint John the Baptist. St John’s Co-Cathedral showcases Malta’s colourful and (interesting) history.
You will find this baroque gem in the centre of Valletta in St John’s Square (though the entrance is via Republic Street).
The cathedral was built in the 16th century and houses epic works of art from prominent people of the times. Most famously Mattia Preti and Caravaggio.
If you thinking St John’s Co-Cathedral resembles an opulent museum… then you’re not wrong and here’s why.
St John’s Co-Cathedral was built following the knights triumphant win in 1565’s battle of the siege.
The battle between the knights and The Ottoman Turks was more than a fight between men with an axe to grind. This bloody and drawn out battle was about protecting Christendom.
Once they emerged victorious… Europe and the church breathed a sign of relief and the Knights of Malta was rewarded with monetary gifts.
Inside you’ll find tombstones made of gold and of marble. Amazing tapestry too and you will also see paintings to depicting the beheading of St John (and other well as noteworthy moments in the Bible).
Entrance Fees & Opening Hours
St John’s Co Cathedral is open 09:30 -14:30 (final entrance at 14:00) Monday to Saturday.
Entrance fees are €15/€7.50 Adults/Students & Pensioners and free for children aged 12 and under.
A huge historical monument is the former home of the Knights of Malta and it is as grandiose as the name suggests. Now partially used to house the President of Malta, the rest is used as a museum. Here you’ll find impressive murals that have captured 1565’s epic showdown in its entirety. There are also paintings of Valletta’s forefather: Grandmaster Jean De Vallette. And for history buffs the Palace Armoury housing the knights actual weapons used in 1565.
Malta is famous for the Great Siege in 1565 and this is where most of that historical battle would have taken place. Today, the Grand harbour is one of the largest marinas in the world and is surrounded by fortifications, bastions and defensive towers. You can see Valletta’s neighbouring villages from here such as Kalkara and Paolo. And out just in front you can see Birgu, Bormla and Senglea – collectively known as The Three Cities.
National Museum of Archaeology
Starting with the building, The National Museum of Archaeology is an example of stunning baroque architecture. Going with the grandiose theme, it should come as no surprise that this is yet another former Knights of Malta residence.
You can learn the story of Malta’s history, which is told through the museums prehistoric collection. There are finds here going back 7000 years. Moreover there is a display here of relics from the megalithic temples including the headless fat statues found at Tarxien Temples.
Featuring gilded boxes and the plushest of seats, Manoel Theatre is one of the oldest theatres in Europe. It was commissioned in 1731 by a grandmaster of the Knight of Malta.
Watching a performance from one of Valletta’s oldest historical monuments ranks up there with one of the best things to do in Malta. Also, If you’re around in January, this is where where the esteemed Baroque Festival is hosted.
National Museum of Fine Arts
One for art lovers and yet another former residence of the Knights of Malta. The National Museum of Fine Arts is grand building where you will find Valletta’s finest art pieces from 11th Century to 20th Century.
Most notable works of art is the Baptist of Christ painted by Mattias Pretti the prolific painter also responsible for some of the famous paintings in St John Co-Cathedral. Amongst other beautiful pieces is an early impression of Grand Harbour by J.W.W Turner.
The Fort of St Elmo & The National War Museum
Just across from the Grand and Marsamxett Harbours is Fort St Elmo. This is where Malta’s National War Museum is.
Did you know that Malta previously held the record of being the most bombed place on earth?
This historical moment occurred during World War 2 (1942) and is a record that has since been superceded by Laos (following the Vietnam War).
The national war museum pays homage to the great world wars and you can see military memorabilia from WW2.
Casa Rocca Piccola
Ever wondered how an aristocratic Maltese Family lived?
Then head on over to Casa Rocca Piccola, a former palace of a Knight.
Passed down through the generations, the present owners offer guided tours of their opulent home. They will show you their courtyard and also their very own charming chapel. Other than opening up their doors to the public the family also run La Giara a restaurant serving Sicilian food.
Prices range from €0-€10.00. Check full price-list here
Where To Eat
Valletta offers an eclectic fusion of local and international cuisine satisfying all palettes and more importantly…budgets. Believe me when I say, you won’t go hungry.
My favourite places to eat are Cafe Cordina, La Pira & and Oswaldo Restaurants.
The food market offers a wide variety of inexpensive food. Definitely the best choice when you are not alone and have conflicting dinner choices!
Where To Stay
Given that all bus routes lead to Valletta, (more about bus routes just below) it is not essential to stay in Valletta to enjoy the delights of the wondrous city. However should you opt to stay here, there are many different options. From luxury to small hotels and authentic stays in old townhouses, and boutiques. Check them out below and enjoy!
On average, hotel prices in Valletta are:
- 3 Star €55.79 per night
- 4 Star €129.88 per night.
- 5 Star € 168.93 per night
Getting To & Around Valletta
Getting to and around Valletta is simple. Malta’s main bus terminal is based there, so most buses start and end their journeys in Valletta. Probably just as well, because parking/driving around can be difficult and something to bear in mind if you’re driving.
The city was built strategically with the roads running on a grid system. One advantage is that it makes navigating easy. Though easily walked in under an hour some of the streets are so steep they resemble a rollercoaster, so wear comfortable shoes.
Getting Bus Tickets
Other Ticket Types
A block of 12 tickets will cost you €15, but what’s good is you can use this option if travelling with others. Each person must scan the ticket (also valid for 2 hours).
Seven-Day Explorer tickets cost €21 for adults (and €15 for kids). This ticket is valid for seven days of unlimited use, day and night. And this ticket type is valid in both Malta and Gozo.
Explore plus Card costs €39 and is valid for seven days of unlimited use day and night. (in both Malta and Gozo). This ticket type also includes two ferry trips with Valletta Ferry Service, a days travel with Citysightseeing Malta or a boat trip to Comino.
Valletta Ferry Services run between Marsamxett Harbour (Valletta) and Sliema.
(They also run a service from Valletta Harbour to The Three Cities and a single costs €2.80 per person).
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